Piers Bocock, MBA, director of the K4Health (Knowledge for Health) project, is part of the Center for Communication Programs (CCP) contingent from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that will be attending the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning: Research and Practices.
He’ll be taking part in an auxiliary event that CCP is hosting on November 30 to launch a slate of new and updated family planning tools and resources developed as part of K4Health, a five-year USAID-funded initiative that aims to strengthen access to evidence-based information to improve health service delivery and health outcomes worldwide.
The products use modern information and communication technology designed to help health care providers—especially those in isolated areas—share family planning information with their clients and connect them with appropriate health care services.
What’s on the agenda for the November 30 auxiliary event?
We’re relaunching the latest edition (2011) of Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers, the seminal document on family planning, published by USAID, WHO and CCP. It has important changes, including community-based provision of injectable contraceptives.
We’re going to be debuting Kindle and iPhone versions of the Handbook in French and English, which until now has been available only online and in hard copy.
We’re also launching an Android app for mobile phones with content pulled from the Handbook to help health providers identify the appropriate contraceptive for their patients. What we’re trying to do is use technology to make that process a lot easier. We’re not reinventing the wheel; we’re just leveraging content that’s already there.
How would a health care provider use the Android app?
Right now, if a patient come to a clinic and says ‘I’ve heard about family planning and want to have healthy spacing for my next pregnancy. What contraceptive should I use?’ the health worker has to go to the back of the Handbook to the Medical Eligibility Criteria table and start answering questions related to her patient, and then navigate through a complicated decision tree to suggest an appropriate method.
With the mobile phone app, the provider can open the app and enter the patient’s answer to a series of questions: Do you smoke? Do you have high blood pressure? How long has it been since your last pregnancy? The app will then tell the provider what the recommended contraceptive methods are and why.
We’re leveraging this incredible prevalence of mobile phones. There are five billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world. When you consider that we’ve just hit seven billion in population, it’s the most pervasive technology there is.
Can you talk about knowledge management—the communications theory underpinning this information delivery method?
It’s a jargony term that refers to the systematic approach of collecting, storing, synthesizing, sharing and adapting knowledge for greater efficiency or effectiveness. The field of knowledge management came out of management consulting, which aims to make an organization more effective internally, especially when doing repeatable assignments. Like a lot of good management approaches it’s expanded into the field of development.
So much of what we do in public health is not new. There are millions of preventable deaths each year, simply from lack of information, so the opportunity is there to leverage knowledge management approaches to take known, proven information and share it with health workers down to the very frontlines to help improve the health of their clients.
Can you give a real-world illustration of this approach?
In the Malawi Demonstration Project, which is part of the K4Health, we found that community-level health workers are isolated in villages 20 or 30 kilometers away from any health center or district hospital, with no electricity, no way to communicate with supervisors, no ability to report an emergency or a low stock of medicines without traveling a good distance.
We gave them very cheap mobile phones and in district hospitals set up mobile phone hubs so community health workers could communicate in an instant when medicines are getting low, when there’s an emergency or when they have a question.
When I did the initial assessment three years ago to determine people’s information needs and barriers to communications, community health workers reported that running out of condoms was a big problem. They would tell clients about condoms but didn’t have any to hand out. Now, when they notice that that the supply is running low, instead of waiting to make the monthly trip to the hospital to stock up, they can send in a text saying we’re getting low, and the hospital can send some out. It sounds simple, but it’s empowered them.
Between the time the project began in January of 2010 to when it ended in June of this year, what we’ve seen is a rapid decrease in stock-outs of supplies. We’ve also heard about a number of childbirth emergencies that would have resulted in the death of the mom or baby if health workers hadn’t had the phones to alert the hospital to send an ambulance.
Right now, we’re seeing how the handover to the Ministry of Health is going. It was a short project, but we really did try to design it with sustainability in mind.
For more information on ACE (App for Contraceptive Eligibility) and other mHealth activities at K4Health click here
This blog is cross-posted from the International Conference on Family Planning website. Piers Bocock is the Director of the K4Health Project.